“Today, this is the most dangerous place in the developed world to give birth.” -USA Today: “Hospitals know how to protect mothers. They just aren’t doing it.” (July 27, 2018)
Last Friday, USA Today published a report with findings from their investigation into hospital records and personal stories and has concluded that hospitals are failing mothers by missing symptoms that indicate serious maternal complications. The report, entitled “Hospitals know how to protect mothers. They just aren’t doing it.,” shared the CDC’s statistic that 50,000 women a year in this country suffer a serious complication during delivery. Around 700 mothers die a year.
These statistics alone might not sound significant given that there are nearly 4 million births a year in the U.S., but the frightening part is that despite being a wealthy, industrialized country, our maternal death rate is getting worse and is the WORST of any developed country. We are the only country besides Sudan and Afghanistan whose maternal death rate is on the rise, despite the belief by many that we have the best care in the world.
Since 1990, our maternal death rate has jumped nearly 27 percent, despite increased knowledge of risks and advances in medicine. An ongoing ProPublica/NPR investigation began bringing attention to our country’s poor maternal outcomes, followed by the release of CDC data this year that black women are 3-4 times more likely to die during childbirth, then the story of tennis player Serena Williams surviving a postpartum pulmonary embolism, and most recently, the USA Today investigation. The USA Today story says that the pressure is now on hospitals, OB practices, clinics, and medical groups to start providing answers, especially as to why mothers are dying when the majority of these deaths are avoidable.
High Blood Pressure and Hemorrhaging are Top Concerns, So Why are Symptoms Missed?
Thanks to programs allowing the release of hospital information in New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina, USA Today was able to obtain hospital data that showed that less than 1/2 of all moms with high blood pressure get recommended medications within the crucial 1 hour window. Some of these hospitals had even lower rates.
The article also says that through interviews with hospitals across the country, many admitted that they did not properly track maternal blood loss following delivery (the recommendation is that pads be weighed to measure exact blood loss), nor did they follow up to find out if patients with high BP had received medication within the 1 hour window. Many hospitals were unwilling to talk on the record about their postpartum patient safety standards or if they were abiding by any set of rules or standards regarding monitoring patients for health issues during childbirth and the postpartum period.
USA Today believes that a lack of uniform delivery and postpartum standards has enabled hospitals to believe that childbirth is an everyday event instead of a serious medical situation. This false sense of safety translates into lackadaisical postpartum care, with more emphasis on infant health than on the health of the mother. Many practitioners simply don’t look out for symptoms that indicate complications such as Preeclampsia, HELLP syndrome, hemorrhages, blood clots, or infections. Even when symptoms present, an endless collection of stories and cases exist where mothers sat in the hospital or were even discharged with headaches and high blood pressure, excessive blood loss, and chest pains.
The Medical Community is Finally Taking Note of Rising Maternal Deaths
With public scrutiny mounting, some hospitals and medical groups have begun the process of defining and strengthening patient safety practices and standards for postpartum care.
In April the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) addressed the need for better care in the “fourth trimester,” defined as the 6 weeks following childbirth. They revised their recommendation for the postpartum visit to occur within 3 weeks instead of 6 weeks following birth, as well as an additional visit at 12 weeks.
The American Hospital Association (AHA), the national group that oversees quality at over 5,500 registered hospitals in the U.S., has been conducting trainings for those who participate in deliveries. Audio recordings of trainings from 2015 and 2016 were obtained by USA Today and some of the most notable revelations during these trainings were that most deaths were “absolutely preventable,” that 93% of maternal deaths from blood loss could’ve been prevented if hospital staff had tracked bleeding how they were supposed to, and that 60% of preeclampsia deaths could have been prevented if staff had promptly treated the mother’s elevated blood pressure.
The Joint Commission, a private group whose accreditation is crucial for hospitals, currently does not set standards related to timely treatment of elevated postpartum blood pressure. A top official there suspects that within the next few months there will be a decision as to whether or not they’ll mandate hospitals to follow a treatment standard to receive Joint Commission accreditation.
The stories of maternal injuries and deaths compiled by USA Today are devastating. A woman who left behind a husband and 3 daughters because her high blood pressure wasn’t treated after delivery. Another whose high blood pressure caused her to suffer a stroke and permanent paralysis. Women who have gone into cardiac arrest from blood loss, and women who have had their uterus removed. All of these women displayed symptoms while in the hospital following the delivery of their baby.
We encourage anyone who is pregnant or has a loved one who is expecting a child to review the symptoms of hemorrhages, Preeclampsia, HELLP Syndrome, and blood clots. Information on these conditions can be found on the American Pregnancy Association’s website.
Mothers Who Experienced Complications: Levin & Perconti Wants to Help You
One other common trend: Many mothers aren’t sure if what they experienced during childbirth and the period after was normal. Childbirth complications are always scary and fill mothers and their partners with uncertainty and fear. If you’re not sure whether injuries or death arising from pregnancy, delivery, or postpartum complications were preventable but would like to talk to a medical malpractice attorney for a free consultation, please call Levin & Perconti now. Our focus is on you and your experience, determining if you have a case, and obtaining the best possible result for you and your loved ones.
Since 1992 we have fought for those whom have been injured or died from medical neglect, including mothers whom have suffered and died from birth complications that should have been recognized and treated. We obtained a $5.2 million dollar settlement for the family of a young mother who died one month after the birth of her child from postpartum cardiomyopathy, a condition that was evident upon her arrival to the emergency room.
Please, contact us now for a free consultation at (312) 332-2872 or by completing our online case evaluation form.